On Hank Green, Gymnastics, and Dreams

And yes, those three are related.


   A few years back—right in the midst of my picking a college major and trying to work out what kind of life I wanted to build for myself (you know, the small stuff)—I came across this video of Hank Green giving a talk at an art and technology conference in Portland. He walked on stage, took off his shoes because his feet were too sweaty, and spoke for twenty minutes about how much he hates the idea of following your dreams.

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   It is 2005, I am ten-years-old, and I have just been invited to join the competitive gymnastics team at my local YMCA. I don't really know what I'm getting myself into, but I know I like doing cartwheels, and someone thought I was good at them, so I wrote a letter to an Olympic gymnast telling her that I want to be the next Olympic champion.

   I don't really know what that means, either, but I saw it on TV once, and I know that all my friends say they want to be Olympians, so I say it, too.

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   Friday, June 23, 2017 is Olympic Day. I think it's meant to celebrate the Olympics, but really, it serves as a marketing strategy for athletic clubs to advertise their programs. I work for one of these programs now. I run a preschool gymnastics program, and I love almost all of the forty hours I spend in the gym each week.

   We had an Olympic Day celebration at my gym, and I was part of the "coaches' demo" where the former gymnasts on staff showed off the gymnastics they still had. These demos are my favorite. The kids gasp and cheer at all the right moments, a welcome change from all the judging and deductions we're used to. It's easy to get people excited when they don't really know what they're looking for.

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   The sock-footted Hank Green on my computer screen tells the story of how in elementary school, someone asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he told them he wanted to be an oceanographer despite not knowing what an oceanographer really did. At various points, he also informed his mother that he wanted to be a househusband and a pizza delivery man, and isn't it ludicrous that at four, five, and six years old we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, as if we will be one thing and one kind of person only, never mind that at six-years-old we have no concept of anything further down the road than snack time.

   It's why he hates it when people talk about following their dreams. Why, he asks, should we honor the wishes of our past selves when that person is exactly who we are now, but with less knowledge, information, and experience?

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   At fifteen, I learned that I didn't want to be a gymnast anymore, and at twenty-one I remembered why I became a gymnast in the first place. It's not that I ever forgot, really; it feels more like going back to that book your cranky ninth grade English teacher made you read when you were learning how to annotate, except this time, no one is forcing you to ask questions in the margins.

   And as certain as I am that I never want to be an Olympic gymnast or an oceanographer or a pizza delivery man, I do think I owe it, not to my six or ten or fifteen-year-old self, but to me—now—to find the thing in the world that makes me say, "I want to be great at this" and go do it.

  I just haven't quite found it yet.